HC Deb 22 June 1936 vol 313 cc1496-516

Read a Second time, and committed.

7.30 p.m.


I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Part IV. I am sorry to break into the proceedings this evening on a totally different subject, but the Private Bill which is now before the House is one which contains some particular Clauses dealing with a very important topic. The Birmingham Corporation is in progress of undertaking the construction of an aerodrome which is partly on the outskirts of Birmingham and partly contained in two districts immediately contiguous in the County of Warwickshire. The first thing which those of us who are supporting this Instruction wish to make plain is that we are not actuated either by any political view or any antagonism to what the Birmingham Corporation are doing. Quite the reverse. However, we thought it right to call the attention of the House to a somewhat unusual position which is developing.

The House will remember that during the Debate on the Air Navigation Bill in Committee a good deal was said—and naturally so—about the necessity for the protection of people who are going to fly to and land in the aerodromes which are to be subjected to that Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament. As a result of that there is upon the Order Paper for to-day, if the business is reached, a new Clause which has been put down by the Minister for consideration in accordance with an undertaking which he gave that those Members of the House who are interested in this vital question should have a further opportunity of considering the making safe of aerodromes for landing purposes. Therefore, it is within the recollection of hon. Members that there was a great desire in the House that there should be some definite code, as it were, which might be applied for the purpose of avoiding those dangers which a great many Members saw might be caused to persons who use the new aerodromes. At the same time, while that Debate was going on, the Birmingham Corporation Bill was being dealt with elsewhere. That Bill also contains a series of provisions which, as I understand, are directed very largely to deal with the same problem, but to do it in a totally different way.

I have felt for some time, in examining the Private Bill legislation which is going through Parliament, that it is extremely undesirable, with the new methods and facilities for transportation in the country, that laws should be—to use an odd expression perhaps—unduly different in different parts of the country. In the old days it was all very well; people more or less stayed in their own villages, towns or counties, and they knew fairly well what the law was in the district in which they lived, or at any rate, had not much difficulty in finding out. Local legislation did not matter to a very great extent to anybody except the individuals who lived in the locality. It seems to me that that position has been entirely changed. An individual may be in half-a-dozen counties or more in one day, and people may possess, and very often do possess, houses, gardens and things of that description not merely in one place but in two or three.

I suggest that it is manifestly desirable that, as a general principle, we should seek, as far as we can, to make our legislation even and consistent throughout the country. I advance that as a general proposition. But when we are dealing with a new industry, with a new series of conditions, with a new viewpoint altogether, as we are doing and as we shall have to do more and more with regard to the air, how much more necessary is it that we should endeavour to see that the law is the same on the outskirts of Birmingham as it is on the outskirts of any other large town where it is desired to establish a civil aerodrome? It is that point of view which has induced us to bring the provisions of this Bill to the attention of the House.

The Bill contains in Part IV, starting with Clause 17, a number of elaborate provisions with a view to preventing the development of land and property in the vicinity of the aerodrome. It is much the same sort of thing, although, of course, it is not done in the same way or perhaps aimed at precisely the same problem, as is being done in the Air Navigation Bill. Clause 17 provides that there is to be a protected area in the neighbourhood and round about the Birmingham Corporation aerodrome. That protected area is defined in the Bill by reference to a series of plans which are to be deposited with the city corporation and also with the council of the county of Warwickshire, and any person who goes to those two places may look at those deposited plans in order to see whether he comes within them. If he does, this is what he will find: that under Clause 17: It shall not be lawful without the consent of the corporation— (a) to erect or add to any building;"— (I understand this is quite different from the Government's Clause which we are to discuss on the Air Navigation Bill) — (b) to erect or place any post (including a telegraph post) pole or other thing; or (c) to permit any tree to grow;"— (which means, in effect, that you cannot plant one)— (d) to raise the surface of the land so that any part of such building post pole thing tree or land (in this Act referred to as an obstruction ') will be at a greater height than the prescribed height. The effect of that would be that, under the Birmingham Corporation's proposal, to all intents and purposes the land in what is called the protected area will be sterilised, because the proposals will obviously interfere to a very considerable extent with the development of that particular area. At the moment I am not sure that I am very much concerned as to whether that particular way is the right way to deal with the matter or whether the Clause which the Minister for Air has put on the Paper is the right way, but frankly I would prefer the Minister's proposal, so far as I am competent to express any opinion upon such a matter. The difficulty about the Clause is that instead of making detailed prescriptions, it goes on to provide for what I can only describe as a series of mathematical problems which will have to be looked at by the individual, who has to see, for example, whether he is going to permit any tree to grow so that it exceeds the prescribed height. If hon. and right hon. Members who have the Clause before them will look at Sub-section (2) they will find a series of four calculations which may have to be made in order to see whether the particular individual is erecting his building, or permitting his tree to grow, or erecting or placing any post (including a telegraph post) above the established height. That seems to place a very onerous burden on anybody who happens to be in the area.

The House will not be surprised to hear that the matter does not stop there. I am perfectly certain that the Birmingham Corporation have tried to limit what they are doing to what they conceive to be reasonable limitations in order to make their new aerodrome a satisfactory place and one which can safely be used by the civil air pilots of the future. Therefore, the Bill contains provisions—and it is only fair that I should point this out—under which the corporation is entitled to give certain notices to people who offend against the provisions, and they can, if they do not like the corporation's notices, ultimately go to the Secretary of State for Air. Now, under the Government's proposal, I understand it is the Minister who will act in the first instance with regard to these matters, and I assume that when the Minister acts in connection with them there will be some co-ordinated effort by his Department in order to make certain that there will be some uniformity of treatment in the aerodromes throughout the country. The difficulty we feel about this is that under this Clause—and I hope those of my hon. Friends who themselves fly and are experts in this matter will give consideration to the point—there may very likely be in Birmingham a different set of circumstances, obstructions and so on, dealt with according to different rules and ideas, to those which prevail in the rest of the country, and once again the onus is put upon the individual to object after the corporation had given their notice of obstruction under Clause 18 of the Bill.

The only question which will be left to them is whether the requirement of the Birmingham Corporation is "reasonably necessary." The Clause does not say reasonably necessary for what, but I think it is fairly obvious that it must be reasonably necessary for the safety of what I would call the flying public. There are then two provisions about the consent which may be given. There are, in the circumstances, extremely serious penalties against any person who contravenes the provisions. The offences are regarded as continuing offences, and in some cases if a person

erects or adds to a building or erects or places any post pole or other thing or permits any tree to grow or raises the surface of the land in contravention of the provisions contained in Section 17 (Restrictions on use of land in protected area) of this Act he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding fifty pounds and to a daily penalty not exceeding ten pounds. It is further provided that whether or not any proceedings are taken, the corporation may make such alterations in the premises as may be necessary and recover the cost of doing so from the unfortunate proprietor. People of substantial means can easily defend themselves in proceedings of that nature. They are able to get, I will not say the best legal advice, but such legal advice as is available for those who can afford it. But in considering proposals of this nature we are a little apt to overlook the small owner, the man to whom the expenditure of a few pounds and oftentimes of a few shillings on lawyers is a serious matter, and one which may seriously unbalance his small budget.

On top of that comes another provision which, I believe, is intended as a protection for the owners of property but which is, I submit, quite illusory and no protection at all. There is a solemn provision that compensation in some circumstances may be granted, and that compensation is to be assessed by individuals who are well known to many of us, namely, official arbitrators under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. I am sure many of my legal friends will rejoice at that provision. They will be delighted at the prospect of this House creating one more possible source of litigation. But that is not the duty of this House and this provision when examined carefully is, as I have said, illusory. No compensation is to be granted unless it is shown by the claimant to the satisfaction of the arbitrator that proposals for the development of the land

are immediately practicable or would have been so if this Act had not been passed. That is not a new provision. It has, I think, been taken from other Acts of Parliament but here we are dealing with the provision in a new application. First you are, as I submit, sterilising the surrounding land and when you have sterilised it, so that no one would look at it for purposes of development knowing the difficulties and deficiencies involved, the owner has then to go to an official arbitrator and before he gets a penny of compensation he has to satisfy the arbitrator that proposals for the development of the land are immediately practicable, or would have been so if this Measure had not been passed. That is an intolerable burden to place upon any owner. It is a condition which, in my submission, it is almost impossible to satisfy. If an individual wanted to grow trees for some commercial purpose how is he to satisfy the arbitrator that proposals for the development of the land—which I assume means development in the form of a building estate—are immediately practicable? How is that going to help him to satisfy the arbitrator in regard to the business which he wants to undertake on that land? I have called attention to the fact that this aerodrome is not wholly within Birmingham, otherwise I should not have used the illustration about a man wanting to grow trees for commercial purposes. The land is partly outside Birmingham where, I assume, such a possibility would be well within the area of practical politics.

I hope I have not taken too long in developing this point. I desire that hon. Members in all parts of the House should realise the criticisms which we wish to offer to this part of the Bill. I think it is fairly plain that we object to the proposal to sterilise the whole of the land in the neighbourhood; that we object to the proposals for compensation and that we object to the serious penalties which the Bill seeks to impose on individuals. We suggest that the Government's method of providing for the safety of civil aviation, as proposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, is much more practicable and much better than having one system for Birmingham and a different system for all other aerodromes. Such, I understand, will be the position if the Bill passes in this form. I say this in no spirit of antagonism to the Birmingham Corporation. I look at the matter, to some extent, from the point of view of a practical lawyer who frequently has to advise on what the law is in different parts of the country. I am often shocked to find the wide diver- gences which exist between different parts of the country, in dealing with certain topics, in regard to which the law ought to be reasonably plain to the ordinary individual. Often it is extremely obscure, even to those of us who spend a great part of our lives in trying to unravel the right meaning from legislation which has been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

7.52 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) has given a very clear exposition of the objection which some of us take to this Clause. We do not see why any local authority should receive preferential treatment or powers greater than those desired by the Air Ministry. Had this part of the Bill been similar to the corresponding provision in the Air Navigation Bill, the Measure would I think have passed through its various stages without any controversy. I ask hon. Members, however, to consider what this proposal means, and to remember that what applies to this aerodrome at Birmingham might well apply equally to any other civil aerodrome in the country. It is proposed to take away from the owners of this land that which they now possess, namely, a clean title. I think there are few Members of the House who would not feel that they had been injured, if a clean title which they held to property were arbitrarily taken away from them and a restricted title substituted without any compensation. I suggest that in justice and equity the local authority ought to purchase sufficient land to ensure safe taking-off and safe landing for the aeroplanes using its aerodrome. To buy only a small portion of land and then to sterilise the land surrounding it, is not in accordance with the ideas of justice to which Englishmen are accustomed. The local authority, in my submission, ought to purchase the land necessary for the aerodrome and for the safe taking-off and landing of machines and then lease out to any one who desired to occupy it, such land as they thought fit, with such restrictions as they felt disposed to place upon it, so that the owner or lessee of the land would know exactly where he stood.

My hon. Friends and I have no antagonism to Birmingham or any other local authority. What we have always aimed at has been some sort of uniformity throughout the country with regard to Private Bill legislation, and we do not think it fair that Birmingham, which is a large and rich city, should receive preferential treatment over the Air Ministry, as well as over other local authorities who desire to have civil aerodromes—and I hope we shall see a good many civil aerodromes in different parts of the country. For the reasons which have been explained we object to this part of the Bill. I do not know whether we shall divide the House upon this Motion or not, but if we do not, and if the Bill goes upstairs, I hope the Committee will take note of the views expressed in this Debate and reject any Clause which they consider is not justified. I am sure that Birmingham will be unable to justify a provision which is not even asked for by the Air Ministry in connection with the erection of Government aerodromes.

7.58 p.m.


I do not think anyone will object to the way in which this Motion has been moved and seconded. Both the Mover and the Seconder, judging by their remarks, show a friendly disposition to the City of Birmingham, and I think it will be agreed that an aerodrome is needed at that city and that the site which has been chosen is probably the best site that could be chosen. They put forward this Instruction, however, on points of principle, and, with the permission of the House, I propose to advance certain arguments in support of the Bill and against the Instruction, also on points of principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) referred to the protected area. The Corporation of Birmingham have already purchased 730 acres, but the protected area, that is the area outside the aerodrome which is regarded as essential for the safety of aircraft coming in or taking off, is about 1,700 acres. Therefore, my hon. Friend suggests that apart from the 730 acres the corporation should have purchased an additional 1,700 acres.

I think it will be agreed that the first consideration in setting up an aerodrome should be the safety of the aircraft using it. There is only one way in which this can be done. They must either own the land, or they must have certain powers to restrict the development of the land so that safety is secured. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) that it is a little unfortunate that there is not some general legislation which covers this point, and it is unfortunate that the City of Birmingham should have to produce this Bill at the very same time that the Air Ministry are producing their particular Bill. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but they may laugh differently when I have finished my point. It is unfortunate that we should have produced this Bill at the same time as the Air Ministry are producing their Bill, which in some respects covers certain provisions in the Birmingham Bill, but not in all respects. The essential difference is that the new Clause which is on the Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air covers the provision of lights on buildings within this protected area, but it does not cover the erection of buildings which may take place in the future. There is, I understand, nothing about that in the new Clause to be moved by the Under-Secretary of State. Therefore, while the buildings which exist will be adequately lighted and looked after under the new Clause, there is nothing to prevent the erection of new buildings or the extension of buildings in the area, and that is the main purpose of this provision in the Birmingham Bill.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridgwater referred to the necessity for uniformity. I am a little surprised at that, coming from such a Tory quarter. I agree that uniformity is in many respects essential when you are dealing with the provision of national amenities like aerodromes, but aerodromes are so different in their lay-out that very often it is necessary to have particular local conditions carefully safeguarded, as in this Bill. Then my hon. and learned Friend objected to the calculations, on the point that they were almost localised calculations. One of the arguments in favour of the calculations in the Bill is that they are standardised calculations, calculations which, I understand—I am not an expert—are internationally accepted. They are calculations which are approved of by the Air Ministry, and the Birmingham Corporation have in fact in this Bill included these particular specifications and calculations because they are the most uniform, both internationally and nationally. The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater also referred to the severity of the penalties, and he made a great point about that, but I would point out that the penalties are for every serious misdeeds, which may result in loss of life.


What misdeeds?


The hon. and learned Member was objecting to penalties for the contravention of certain restrictions which the corporation may impose.


Is it a, misdeed or a crime to erect a building on your own land?


If that building is going to cause the loss of life or very serious accidents, it is a serious misdeed. My hon. Friend may object to it, but I think we are entitled to say that that serious misdeed must be safeguarded against by the imposition of serious penalties. May I say one word about the principle of sterilisation? If it is necessary for the municipality to guard the safety of aircraft coming into and taking off from this aerodrome, they have either to purchase the land entirely or to make certain necessary restrictions in order that security shall be obtained.; and purchase of the land may mean compulsory purchase. I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), who no doubt will speak later, whether he prefers compulsory purchase, because it seems to me that compulsory purchase is far more objectionable from his point of view than the taking of powers to impose certain restrictions on the development of the land, which may not operate at all. Compulsory purchase is far more drastic and, from the point of view of the ratepayers, far more expensive. If actually we were to purchase the whole of the 1,700 acres, it would cost an enormous expense and place a great burden on the rates, and at the same time we could obtain perfect security for the aerodrome, without actually interfering with private property, by taking the particular powers asked for in this Bill. If my hon. Friends who have moved this Instruction would really consider which of these alternatives they preferred, compulsory purchase or taking restrictive powers, I am sure that from their particular point of view, of laisser-faire Toryism, if I may so describe it, compulsory purchase would. be the more objectionable.


The hon. Member asks whether we should prefer compulsory purchase or sterilisation. I say definitely, "Compulsory purchase." We do get some money that way, but the other way we get nothing.


My hon. Friend is not correct when he says that under the other way he would get nothing. There is no question of that. The whole principle of compensation is very carefully laid down. It is carefully laid down in Clause 21 that if in any way the rights of the particular owners are to be interfered with, there is full opportunity for compensation to be discussed. There is an appeal in every case, and I really think the interests of the people who own land in this district are fully safeguarded. My hon. Friend, I think, takes the view that the Birmingham Corporation are doing something very radical or very extreme, but in point of fact they are asking for no new powers. They are asking for new powers in respect to an aerodrome, but the actual powers for which they ask exist already in another form. The Town and Country Planning Act, under which the zoning of areas is carried out, is very well known, and there was a Bill at the end of the last Parliament for the restriction of ribbon development, where practically the same principle exists. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridgwater would agree that it is quite an ordinary thing for people to sell land and to put certain restrictions upon it as to the type of house or development that shall take place on it. Therefore, I say that the principle—and I am arguing it on principle—is nothing new. Birmingham is asking for nothing out of the ordinary, and whereas in those other cases they are dealing with amenities, this deals with the protection of life, which is more important still.

I feel that this Instruction would, if carried, really destroy the whole principle of the Bill, and Birmingham Corporation feel so strongly that this aerodrome should be built, and built with adequate protection, that it is necessary to have the Bill. Parliament has given certain powers to municipalities with regard to the building and arrangement of aerodromes, but in this particular case the corporation of Birmingham found that these powers were not adequate. Therefore they took the proper course of coming before Parliament and saying that in their local area, in the particular conditions which they have to look after, they find that the powers given by Parliament are not sufficient, and they therefore ask Parliament to give them further powers. If the Instruction were carried, it would mean that the Bill could not be properly considered and that the corporation could not have a proper way of stating their case, which would hardly be fair to the corporation. I regret very much that the corporation have not built an aerodrome before, but now that they do come forward with a proect, I think they should be given full opportunities to express their views.

Finally, there has been no opposition at all from the people who live in the area affected. One might have thought, from the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, that there had been great opposition, that the people who live in this area. were saying, "Save us from this radical, Socialist Corporation of the City of Birmingham." Not at all. My hon. and learned Friend made great play with the fact that maps and instructions had to be issued and were available at the Town Hall in Birmingham. But, much more than that, everybody who lives in the area has been notified and knows exactly what the position is. What has happened? Have there been great protest meetings? Has the Town Hall of Birmingham been attacked? Not a murmur, not a whisper of opposition has there been. Therefore, I beg the House to reject this Instruction and to let the Bill go forward, knowing quite well that by so doing they are not in any way affecting adversely the interests of the people in that area and that they will be adding to the safety and security of those who in future will use the aerodrome.

8.9 p.m.


I rise to support the Motion for the Instruction, first of all on the ground of principle, and secondly because the aerodrome which the Birmingham Corporation are creating lies within the constituency which I have the honour to represent, namely, the Tamworth Division of Warwickshire. I want to make it clear that my constituents have no hostility whatsoever to the general idea of this project. They appreciate that the creation of aerodromes throughout the country is a matter of national importance, and having regard to the future, when civil aviation will, in my opinion, become more and more closely connected with military aviation and will be vital to the defences of this country, it would ill become anyone to be unduly obstructive with regard to the creation of aerodromes. Still less do my constituents desire to be obstructive in any way which would prevent the creation of safety devices in order to avoid unnecessary loss of life in the course of people taking off from or landing in this aerodrome. From one aspect, the presence of this aerodrome will be welcomed, because it will provide a permanent open space in an area which threatens ultimately to become a built-up area, and in that respect there is a certain compensation to the neighbours for the inconvenience which will be inseparable from the proximity of an aerodrome.

In order that this great scheme shall be brought into being, my constituents recognise that compulsory powers have to be exercised and that in the neighbourhood of the aerodrome there must be something in the nature of a protected area. But what my friends in Warwickshire object to is the method by which these restrictions are to be applied and the powers under Part IV of the Birmingham Corporation Bill. If powers are necessary, as indeed they are, we feel that the Birmingham Corporation should be content with those powers which are part of the general law of the land or those powers which are commonly acquired by municipalities. My hon. Friend the Member for the King's Norton division (Mr. Cartland) said the Birmingham Corporation were really asking for nothing new. In that case I see no necessity for the provisions under Part IV. Surely they can either avail themselves of legislation which already exists or wait the very short time until the Air Navigation Bill will become an Act of Parliament. I feel that, subject to their power to avail themselves of legislation which affects the whole country, the Birmingham Corporation should be given no powers of control over property without either agreement with the owners or purchase. In practice, purchase will not often be necessary, because in a great majority of cases agreements will be arrived at.

The hon. Member for King's Norton said that the owners of property would infinitely prefer restrictions to compulsory purchase. I do not agree with that view, because if the Birmingham Corporation have powers of compulsory purchase but not powers to restrict the owners will have the choice. If they desire to retain their property and consider that the restrictions to be imposed are not unduly grievous, it will be a simpler method for them to enter into an agreement with the Birmingham Corporation by which their land will become subject to restrictive covenants for which they will receive reasonable compensation. If, on the other hand, they feel that the restrictions will be too grievous, and they can no Longer happily reside in that neighbourhood, it will be open to them to sell to the corporation. The corporation will be able adequately to control the situation, because in the last resort they can get the land. It may be true that the exercise of compulsory purchase will involve a great outlay in the first instance, but if, as we have been told, the restrictions will not be severe or tiresome, the value of the land will not be appreciably diminished, and it will be perfectly easy for the corporation to resell the land in this neighbourhood, which is rapidly developing, without an appreciable loss. In fact, assuming that a resale takes place almost immediately the loss would represent approximately the injury done to the property by virtue of the restrictive covenants imposed by the corporation.

I do not wish to enter into minor points, but it strikes me that it is rather hard on an owner of property that he should have to lop, perhaps, a very fine tree at his own expense or be subject to prosecution. If the corporation put upon owners of property the onus of seeing that their trees do not exceed a certain height they should be prepared to pay the cost of lopping them. If big trees are near to a house it is often an expensive matter to take off the tops without damaging the premises, because very skilled men have to be employed. Further, in Clauses 18 and 19 it is only to the owner of the property to whom the corporation have to give notice of their intentions, whereas Clause 22 says that "any person" may be prosecuted who raises an obstruction above the prescribed height, and Subsection (2) of that Clause speaks of "the owner or occupier" of any land within the protected area acting or permitting any other person to act in contravention of the regulations. I think the position of occupiers, who may have not merely a nominal but perhaps a fairly long-term interest in the property, should also be considered. For the reasons I have given, while I support the Instruction I hope very much that if the corporation gets the Bill as it stands it will exercise the greatest discretion and in every way consult the convenience of those in the neighbourhood of the aerodrome.

8.20 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)

Perhaps it will be for the convenience of hon. Members if I state now the view of the Air Ministry on the proposals in this Bill. I naturally sympathise very deeply with the corporation, who desire to take advantage of the proposals under Part IV for the protection of their new aerodrome. Their desire to make their aerodrome safe for all users is, of course, a natural and legitimate one. But the proposals in Part IV are novel and far-reaching, and my Noble Friend feels that their grant or rejection is a matter for the House itself to decide. I would remind hon. Members that under the Air Navigation Bill now before the House there are provisions to enable local authorities to ensure that the land in the vicinity of an aerodrome should be kept free from dangerous obstructions. This applies to all owners of licensed aerodromes, as well as to all local authorities who maintain and run aerodromes. There is also a provision for the illumination of obstructions in the neighbourhood of aerodromes. My Noble Friend does not, therefore, propose to ask the House to give powers to local authorities in excess of those which are in the general Bill now before the House.

Under that Bill, as hon. Members know, it will be possible for municipalities to acquire land compulsorily if necessary. They will have those powers as permanent powers, which they have not had before; and not only that, they will be able to sell or to let that land subject to restrictive covenants, which is something they have not hitherto been able to do. Those powers will be avail- able for all local authorities. Therefore, it is for the House to decide whether in this particular case wider powers are to be granted to the local authority, or whether if, as I am sure, my hon. Friends do not propose to push this Instruction to a Division, it should be referred to the Private Bill Committee.

8.23 p.m.


I listened with the greatest interest to the very informative statement we have just had from the Under-Secretary. Whether after that statement we shall divide or not is a matter which we must think over for a few moments, but my first reaction to that statement is to say that we ought not to divide. He has made it perfectly clear that in his judgment, and in the judgment of his chief, there is no reason why any particular municipality should have powers in excess of those laid down, mainly in Clause 10, in the Air Navigation Bill. That is the basis of the criticism of those who have been supporting the Instruction to-night. On the other hand, there may be exceptional cases where a local authority ought to have powers in excess of the general body of powers contained in a general public Act, and the Committees upstairs exist for the purpose of considering whether any particular municipality should receive powers in excess of the customary powers. They have the advantage of hearing evidence presented to them with the help of counsel, and to see maps and hear all about the circumstances of the district. I do not think that the Birmingham Corporation ought to be denied that right. We have raised this Debate on a point of principle. Let us assume that the Bill goes upstairs and four of our colleagues, who sit as a Select Committee to consider it, are ultimately driven to the conclusion that in this particular case, for special local, geographical and other reasons, these peculiar powers are justified. Birmingham will then get them, but that will not justify anybody else getting them. What we are concerned with is to make sure we do not create some precedent which will be undesirable for the future.

It is clear from the discussions which have already taken place in the House on the Air Navigation Bill that there does not exist any desire in general for the extensive powers that Birmingham is claiming. May I comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland)? He brought in some sob-stuff when he talked about safety. Nobody denies that it is necessary that safety should be secured. The question at issue is, at whose expense At the expense of the proprietors of the aerodrome, or the expense of the surrounding owners and occupiers of land? We are both in favour of safety, but we are discussing the question of who is to pay. Then he said that the penalties were for a serious misdeed. What is the misdeed? It is objecting to a trespasser crossing your land. Every machine that flies from an aerodrome is technically a trespasser. There is an old law about a man who owns a piece of land owning everything from the centre of the earth up to the sky. Air navigation is a breach of that law, and every aeroplane is technically a trespasser. Now we are told that to object to the trespasser is to create a misdeed.

There are alternative methods. There is the method in this Bill, the method of the Government's Air Navigation Bill, and the method of wayleaves. The Postmaster-General pays a wayleave when he takes wires over land, and it may well be the case that the Birmingham Corporation could come to satisfactory arrangements with the owners of the land, without going to the expense of purchase, whereby for a moderate annual payment they enter into agreement not to do anything to interfere with the safety of the aeroplanes. There is the third alternative method which has not been put forward. The Minister has completely demolished the argument for the method in this Bill, because under the Government's Bill they are entitled, subject to the sanction of the Minister, to re-sell land, subject to the necessary restrictive covenants. If my hon. Friend will consult Clause 10 of the Air Navigation Bill, he will see that the situation is satisfactorily dealt with. He says that the same principle is contained in the Town and Country Planning Act. It may be, but the Birmingham City Council are not the town-planning authority in this area. They are, in fact, trespassers as far as the bulk of the area of the aerodrome is concerned.


Can you trespass on your own land?


Birmingham Corporation do not own any of the land. They are proposing by this Bill to buy land outside the city, and to interfere with the rights of existing owners and occupiers outside the boundaries of that land. It is not as if they were the town-planning authority; if they were, there might be something in it. We had the declaration of the hon. Gentleman for the Division in which the aerodrome will be situated, and he has rather demolished the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton, who said that nobody objected except, as the brief sent out by the corporation indicated, the London Midland and Scottish Railway. That railway, like all other railways, has a large office not very far from this building for the purpose of objecting to every Bill which affects anything nears its property. Every railway company does it. It is a matter of standard routine with them. The people who live on this land and occupy and own it know nothing about these things, for they have not all the apparatus of Parliamentary agents, and so on, to look after them.

I gather from what has been said tonight, and by what has been said to me privately by the hon. Member for Tam-worth (Sir J. Mellor), that there are certain people in the district who object very strongly to this scheme. I am not concerned with the particular case. I am concerned with the fundamental principle involved, namely, that someone should come before Parliament asking powers to purchase a particular area, to declare that the surrounding area is sterilised, and to insert a preposterous compensation Clause. It is preposterous because, once you have sterilised an area, it will never be possible to prove any damage. If we do not press the Instruction to a Division, I hope that the Bill will be examined very carefully by the Select Committee in the light of all the arguments that have been advanced to-night, and in the light of the interesting statement of the Minister.

8.32 p.m.


I am sure that those of us who are interested in this Bill have no complaint to make either of the fact that hon. Members have raised the interesting issue of principle, or of anything that they have said. There are, at any rate, many things about which we all agree. We want aviation to be developed as rapidly as possible in this country. We want as efficient and as safe aerodromes as we can get, and we should not discourage the great municipalities from taking up this subject. In every aerodrome there is not only the aerodrome itself, but a periphery immediately around it where you must have a certain easy angle of ascent and descent in order to secure safety. The only question at issue really is whether a great city like Birmingham, and other cities, should be compelled in all cases to purchase not only the land required for the aerodrome, but the periphery immediately around in order to secure that safety, if, in the circumstances of the case, it is not necessary to purchase it, and if, as I believe is the case in the present circumstances, the owners of the land in question have no desire to sell and are more content with the arrangement proposed than they would be if the land were bought from them and afterwards disposed of by the City. My hon. Friend has talked a good deal about sterilisation in this area. I think that it is worth while taking into account, just what degree of sterilisation is involved My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. G. Williams) has pointed out that the mere fact that aeroplanes fly over property is a, measure of sterilisation.


Of trespass.


But we are not allowed to build up to the sky. In this particular instance for the greater part of the land—1,000 acres out of 1,400— the sterilisation applies only above 75 feet, that is to say, about the height of a six-storey house or a 100-year-old tree. In that particular area, as it is at present, namely, an agricultural area, I can conceive very little reason to suppose that anybody is contemplating now or in the near future building any edifice exceeding 75 feet. Even within the narrower area more immediately near the aerodrome, the margin of 35 feet is in excess of the ordinary small two-storey house, which is the more likely property to be developed in that area. At any rate, sterilisation is very limited.

In so far as circumstances may eventually arise from the proximity of the aerodrome, which would lead to the erection by tenants of higher buildings, there is a perfectly clear and not illusory provision for compensation. As for precedents there are not only those quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), under the Town and Country Planning Act and other Acts, but all our other by-laws very definitely sterilise our rights to build on our own land "from the soil up to Heaven". You are not allowed to build to a height greater than the width of the street. You may not obstruct the passage of the sun's rays at an angle steeper than 45 degrees, whereas, in this proposal, the angle is only three degrees, which is a very much less drastic interference with the rights of individuals. All these are points for Committee, and I suggest that there is nothing in the principle which is in any way inconsistent with the powers which are normally granted to municipalities. Even for the only original thing in this case, namely their application to aerodromes, there is a precedent with the Kingston-upon-Hull municipality, which has almost precisely the same power.

I would detain the House for one minute more upon the question of uniformity. The hon. Member for King's Norton pointed out that an effort has been made in this regulation to conform to a standard type of angle of approach, as laid down not only in this country but internationally. This procedure is laid clown at most of the aerodromes of the Continent. Certain land is purchased for the aerodrome, and there is a narrow periphery where certain limitations apply. There is nothing in that which in any way conflicts with the general legislation now being promoted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air. He has dealt with the illumination of obstructions in the general vicinity of aerodromes, which is something affecting the whole countryside. The present proposal is a narrower one, dealing with what I may call the inner periphery of the aerodrome, which might or might not be subject to purchase, but alternatively, we submit, can be the subject, at any rate in, this case, and possibly in any other case, of measures analogous to those which regularly are applied in respect of town-planning and ribbon development. It may remain to be seen whether those principles should apply universally, or whether the principles to be adopted under the Air Navigation Bill will be sufficient in many cases and for most purposes. We are well content with the discussion which we have had, and certainly, the points raised can be usefully ventilated in Commitee. We trust now that our hon. Friends will not press this matter of the Instruction.


Am I in a position to withdraw the Instruction, in the absence of my hon. and learned Friend?


In the absence of my hon. and learned Friend, I ask leave to withdraw the Instruction, having regard to the arguments that have been advanced.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member has not moved the Instruction.


With the exception of just two or three minutes, I have listened to every word that has been said in the Debate.


On a point of Order. If the hon. Member is going to discuss it further, we shall have something to say.


I thought the hon. Member was rising to ask leave to withdraw the Motion, and not to make a speech upon it.


That is so. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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